Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hermit Woods Wine Dinner

This text will appear in the Hippo on Thursday, May 30 in my wine column. But this wine dinner was so good I wanted to share additional links and photos. 

What happens when a local winery, restaurant and bed and breakfast come together? In short, there’s great wine, delicious food and excellent hospitality. This was my experience at Hermit Woods Winery’s second annual Wine Release Dinner, the event that marks the beginning of the winery’s season and introduces members of the media to their offerings.
A group of us met at Hermit Woods Winery, located in Sanbornton near Steele Hill Resort. The boutique winery opened in 2011, offering wines made from grapes, fruit and honey (meads). Co-owners Bob Manley and Ken Hardcastle greeted us, noting Chuck Lawrence, a commercial pilot, was in Portugal. Hardcastle, a geologist by trade and the winery’s chief winemaker, said their goal is to use local fruits and products to create classical style, dry wines.

“Every year Ken achieves more unique combinations, bringing out the qualities in the wines,” said Manley. “This is our second annual wine release dinner and we want to make this a tradition.” 

Our group tried seven different wines, beginning with the 2012 Whiteface, a new fruit wine made with whole quince, rhubarb, peaches and rosehips. While this combination may not sound like something you expect in a wine, it has lovely aromas of peaches and a light hue. I found this wine to be very unique but pleasant with a nice smooth finish. A limited quantity will be available at the winery.

The 2012 Kiwi Wine is something I was really looking forward to trying, as past batches have sold out before I had the chance. The 2012 wine was made with two local organic kiwi varieties, chosen for their tartness. This wine has great aromas and flavors of honeydew melon. It is off dry and could be compared to a Riesling, but has its own uniqueness and isn’t overly sweet. 

As Hermit Woods has been open for a couple of years now, they are able to age some of their wines. One example of that is their 2011 Blue Mead, a blend of two separate wines: blueberry wine and honey mead. This wine is off dry and should be served slightly chilled. The 2011 Elderberry Oak is another example of an aged fruit wine, similar to the elderberry wine but this one is fermented warmer and aged in an oak barrel. 

One wine made from grapes at Hermit Woods is the 2011 Ermitano, a cabernet sauvignon made from Chilean grapes. “Ermitano” means hermit in Spanish, and this wine is big, bold and deep red in color. Big red wine drinkers will enjoy this one, as it was aged in oak for seven months. 

One of my favorite wines of the night was the 2012 Deep Blue, an intense, port style wine made with low bush blueberries. The aroma of this wine is great and the finish is very smooth despite noticeable tannins and strong alcoholic heat. 

Following this tasting, the group of us headed to the Lake House at Ferry Point, a Sanbornton bed and breakfast on Lake Winnisquam where John and Cindy Becker are the innkeepers. There, Chef Kevin Halligan from Local Eatery in Laconia and his wife, Gillian, were busy preparing a fabulous seven course menu, each course paired with a different Hermit Woods wine. First, we sampled a blueberry Bellini, made with Hermit Woods’ Hermitage wine. 

“It’s so exciting to share our wines with everyone. You are the first through the door to try them,” Hardcastle said as dinner began.

I have worked with Halligan in the past and eaten at Local Eatery restaurant, so I knew dinner was going to be amazing because he is such a great chef. He uses as many locally sourced products in his restaurant as he can, which supports local farms and businesses and equals a very high-quality product. He did an exceptional job pairing Hermit Woods’ wines with an exquisite menu and explaining his choice for each. 

We enjoyed pan-seared scallops paired with Lake House White; a lobster cocktail paired with Harvest Apple, a mixed greens salad paired with Three Honey Wine, braised rabbit paired with Knot Mead, pork medallions paired with Petite Blue Reserve and three cheese blintzes paired with Mélange. The last time I had such a wonderful meal was at Local Eatery earlier this year, but the wine pairing made it that much better. 

During the meal, I thought about what made Hardcastle and Halligan so good at what they do: they both respect their ingredients and celebrate the best qualities in their products. Hardcastle allows the grapes and fruit awaken the palate in his wine, while Halligan showcases each item on a plate, put there for a reason. 

One of my favorite pairings was the third course. The complex flavors in the award-winning Three Honey Wine went really well with the mixed greens, apples, honey glazed almonds, fresh goat cheese and honey ramp vinaigrette in the salad. 

“These were outstanding food and wine pairings,” Manley said, praising Halligan for his choices. “We are looking forward to continuing this tradition.”

Following dinner, some of us stayed at the Lake House, where we had a classic New England inn experience. I was lucky enough to be able to stay in the Sunrise Room, which has the inn’s best view of the lake. The Becker’s served an excellent breakfast in the morning of pancakes, sautéed strawberries and a local egg omelet. 

This experience was truly amazing and I was very thankful to be able to experience the wine, food and hospitality offered by these three local businesses. I was also very impressed with the wine and I highly recommend trying it. 

Hermit Woods Winery is now open for the season. Visit them weekends from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. until July and August, when they will also be open Wednesday through Friday from 1-5 p.m. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Taco Tour...Better Late than Never!

I am a little (okay very) late on this post, but I wanted to make sure I shared some information about the Hippo de Mayo Taco Tour for anyone who is unfamiliar with it. As a columnist for The Hippo, I have been invited to be a Taco Tour judge two years in a row. It's a great event, lovingly named the "world's largest taco tour," and a great event for Manchester. Restaurants gain awareness and overall, it's really fun! 

Here's how it works: Manchester restaurants come up with a taco recipe and a charity of choice. Taco tourists take a map and head out around the city enjoying $2 tacos. There is a judges' choice and a taco tourist vote at the end of the night. Both winners earn money for their charity of choice.

As a judge, I get to ride around in a limo all night and sample tacos. This year, I sampled more than 38 tacos (just a small bite)! While some restaurants unfortunately ran out of tacos before we arrived, others had multiple taco offerings-so overall our team of judges had our fill of tacos for the night.

Some of my personal favorites this year were Ben and Jerry's Mexicone Dream Taco, Baked's Baked Cake Taco, Margarita's Taco del Mar, Red Arrow Diner's Buffalo Chicken Taco and Gyro Spot's Opa Taco. Of course, there were a few tacos I wish I never tried. But we won't get into those. 

The judge's choice this year was Gyro Spot's Opa Taco. Even though I don't usually eat pork, this taco was pretty tasty, complete with French fries. 

If you live near Manchester and have never been to this event (this year was the third annual), mark your calendar for next year. It always falls around Cinco de Mayo and it's a great time! Information available here.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Where's the Wine?

Lime wine from Coffin Cellars for Cinco de Mayo 
Anyone who knows me knows that wine is one of my favorite things, but not just to drink. For me, wine is an experience. It's learning about the winemaker and the grapes, how and why it was made, figuring out its "story." It's the reason I write a column in the Hippo every week. I enjoying learning something new and helping others learn too. I am definitely not an expert; there is so much to learn, but it's been a very fun process.

I have a very special place in my heart for New Hampshire wineries and I really enjoy visiting them. For a small state, New Hampshire has a good amount (I think the last count was 33?). I hope to visit all of them in the state at some point. I am making great progress but there are new ones opening up each year. 

So why aren't there any wine posts yet, you may ask?

There are plenty of wineries that stay open year-round and then there are some that open after Memorial Day. That is when I will really start to make my rounds. For now, visit the NH Winery Association's website for listings and locations. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Shaking Down with the M/S Mount Washington

Getting ready to board the ship. This couple wanted to be first in line.
 I love my job, but some days I really, really love it and am extra thankful for days spent out of the office doing something fun. Because the PR agency I work for also works with the M/S Mount Washington, I had the opportunity to go on the vessel's annual Shakedown Cruise on Lake Winnipesaukee. This marks the beginning of the ship's season, when it has been cleared by the fire marshal for safety and all permits have been obtained for it to set sail. 

I always enjoy going out on the Mount, but the weather the day of the Shakedown Cruise was especially perfect-warm and sunny. It was a perfect day to be on the lake. I attended a prom on it in high school; a booze cruise in college; some casino nights for my dad's old company and a Captain's Cruise when I worked as a newspaper reporter. 

One of the highlights of the Shakedown Cruise is being able to go up into the Captain's Quarters, meet the Mount's great staff and have the opportunity to "steer" the ship. 

The Mount has changed over the years. The original S.S Mount Washington ship burned in a dock fire in 1939. Though attempts were made to free the ship, it was stuck in the shallow mud of the bay and was burned along with the boardwalk and railroad station. A new ship from Vermont, which happened to be for sale at the time, was brought in from Lake Champlain. The ship was 203 feet long and constructed of iron. The ship was sent in pieces from Vermont to Lakeport, where it was reassembled. 

Great view!!!
The ship has seen many changes over the years. Twin diesel engines were added in 1946 and its length was extended 25 feet in 1982. It was after both of these changes that it would become the M.S. Mount Washington it is today. It holds up to 1,250 passengers and is a true gem of the Lakes Region. It's very own Captain Jim is also well-known in the community for his dedication to tourism and his community. 

I am looking forward to getting back out on the water this summer for another cruise. Check out the Mount's schedule here